Thursday, February 5, 2015

Learning by Copying

Some of my most spirited and energetic scribbles happen when I copy someone else's work.  Not to pass off as my own, of course.  Instead, I copy to absorb some of what I admire--the technique, the impact, of a particular author.

I've done this for years in my scribblings with words.  I keep what I call Mentor Novels on my desk when I write my own fiction.  When I'm writing and hit a slump, I can open to any page of my well-read mentor novel and simply start typing.  Yep, I actually just type right into my own document the words straight out of that novel.

I know those words aren't mine and of course I cut them from my document only minutes later.  But the act of typing them--not just reading them--never fails to job my own words and energy loose from whatever has it stuck.  Usually within a couple of minutes, my own unique scribblings start to flow again.  My authentic voice is actually more free to emerge when given permission and inspiration by someone else's creative voice.

I have found this technique so useful, I've taught it to my writing students for years.

And I have used it in my visual art as well, copying drawings and paintings from too many artists to count.  What can I learn?  What can I absorb?  What will help me create my own art?

Recently, thanks to a prompt from Sketchbook Skool, I sat down to "copy" the oil transfer monoprint "Angelus Novus" by Paul Klee.  You can read more about it here.

Source:  Wikipedia
Of course, the goal (at least for me) is not to produce an exact copy.  Instead it is to learn a little bit about how Klee did what he did so that I can use some of that technique in the future in my own drawing.

Here is mine, done in watercolor and ink.

What I learned:

  • variety in background wash adds interest to the drawing.
  • spatter is cool.
  • what feels almost monochromatic isn't--and that little splash of read in the middle matters.
  • geometrics (which I didn't do very well) produce really interesting effects and I should plaly with them more.
  • the eyes looking off the page add intrigue.
As I drew, this reminded me of the watercolor and ink work of Felix Scheinberger, whose work (and book on watercolor sketching) I love.

I want to try copying this piece again, just to see what happens a second time!

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